Thursday, June 7, 2012

Tough little turkeys

 These turkey poults are tougher than they look

June is a busy time in this corner of the world. Wild turkeys are raising their young, called poults, just like so many other birds and animals. But, not every baby born this spring will survive. Two weeks ago this hen, whom I've known since she was a baby, brought her ten poults to meet me. Now there are only five. 

Free roaming cats, foxes, crows and cars all take their toll. (My own cats are currently under house arrest.) In this case, I suspect crows and hawks as the most likely predators. Nesting crows favor several very tall white pines here and I can hear the clamor their ravenous young are making. Much as I love crows, I know they will happily take any unlucky poult, blue jay chick or other nestling if the opportunity presents itself. And that’s only part of their diet.

The hen knows it, too. She is ever watchful of the sky, listening for the sounds of crows and hawks, and she does not allow her brood to spend much time in the open where they are most vulnerable. Instead, she leads them across the lawn quickly and heads for thick growth where the poults can scurry in safety.

What used to be my front lawn is now a carpet of violets and other native plants, and it turns out that this is an ideal nursery for the poults. They love to forage for insects that hide in the shady undergrowth there; the babies are completely hidden by the foliage and the hen gets a chance to relax for a little while. All I can see are stems and leaves trembling now and then as the babies hunt down insects, something they are hard wired to do. 

The same is true for dust baths. With Mom standing guard nearby, these little ones are already scratching and rolling in the dirt and shaking their tiny feathers out with gusto. They are beyond cute and certainly much tougher than they look. They must be to survive.

Whenever I happen to see the poults, I count them. So far five seems to be the magic number and I hope they all make it now. Like any good mom, the hen makes sure her babies get their rest, but otherwise keeps them on the move, another key to their survival. 

Though Mom knows me well, her babies do not, so I’ve been very careful to keep a respectful distance until we get better acquainted. These photos were taken with that in mind. Clicking on them helps. Also, note how well camouflaged the poults are.

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